Sheet Metal Fabrication: Making Complex Metal Structures


New technologies are continuing to produce new lightweight metal alloys for the military and aerospace industries. Artificial intelligence is developing new metal chemistries and finish techniques to dial in performance gains. This is resulting in a much wider variety of alloy types being used in modern ground and air equipment. This pushes Ben Machine to continuously improve our machining and sheet metal fabrication processes.

Elements like Tantalum, Beryllium, and Niobium make sheet metals act in new ways. As these new alloys come into use, we find ourselves challenged with metal properties no one’s ever seen before. That opens them up to new uses, giving them a better performance than their predecessors.

Sheet metal has long occupied a curious place in the aerospace and the military. On one hand, it was generally relegated to use for housings and enclosures. It was folded at right angles and welded to make boxes. Not a lot of imagination or innovation went into it. Except, at the same time, sheet metal was undergoing some of the most vital and innovative developments as outer surfaces for aircraft. Programs like the Bell X-1 and the Skunkworks’ SR-71 drove sheet metal research at Mach speed (so to speak). Over time sheet metal has become more and more integrated with the devices it’s long housed. Weight and space concerns have caused it to be given similar design consideration as those devices.

Punching and cutting raw stock for precision sheet metal work always takes a significant amount of planning. What type of tooling is best suited to produce a given hole or cut pattern? Metal punches are an inexpensive option, but will they cause the metal to deform? Is the sheet metal hard enough that it will wear out cutting tools too fast during production? If a non-shear technology like laser cutting is preferred, how does that affect the cutting time? Determining what radii are needed for given bends has to be considered against how the specific metal will respond to the CNC press brakes. No two jobs are alike.

Rather than being a wholly separate function from our CNC milling or lathe projects, precision sheet metal fabrication goes hand in hand with them. A precision machined component may need sheet metal tabs attached so it can be tied into a larger assembly. The machined device may need to be mounted directly to a precisely formed sheet metal bracket or housing. Sheet metal is often called upon to provide heat shielding protection for sensitive parts.

The new alloys appearing in aerospace applications are generally lighter weight than their predecessors or provide much greater stiffness than earlier options did for the same weight. This allows our precision sheet metal fabrication to be carried out with notably thinner stock than previously. Fortunately, our experienced welders are particularly accomplished at welding thin stock. They’re up for the challenge of joining these thinner alloys to provide rigid mountings or shields or tying them directly into machined components.

Once formed, these new materials often provide one last challenge: finishing. Ben Machine is an in-house machine shop, so we take care of every aspect of your project. We’re equipped to provide whatever finish treatment your design calls for, whether it’s passivation, anodizing, Teflon coating, or complex chemical agent resistance coatings.

With nearly 50 years of cutting-edge experience under our belt, Ben Machine is proud to be at the fore of precision sheet metal fabrication, and we can’t wait to see what the next 50 years brings.